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Joint Task Force 129 Airmen Rescue Civilians Stranded in Galveston

By Air National Guard Capt. Alyson Teeter
American Forces Press Service

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif., Sept. 13, 2008 – California Air National Guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing rescued eight people yesterday in Galveston, Texas. The air guardsmen deployed to Kelly Field in San Antonio for Hurricane Ike search and rescue support operations.

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Joint Task Force 129 crew, Jolly 92, rescues a family of four in Galveston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2008. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Wally Bacio)
  

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A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on search and rescue patrol spotted unevacuated civilians waving from a bridge on the Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston. Flooding conditions due to Hurricane Ike severed an access road onto the peninsula and the civilians were stranded. U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Army National Guard helicopters picked up about 30 people.

Soon after the bridge rescues, a Coast Guard helicopter and four Joint Task Force 129 helicopters, including two 129th RQW HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and pararescuemen, arrived on scene to assist.

During the aerial reconnaissance the crews found no one else on the bridge because it was under water, said Maj. Matthew Thomas, 129th Rescue Wing pilot and co-pilot for Jolly 92.

The Coast Guard then dispatched the JTF 129 helicopters to a home nearby on the northeast side of Galveston. The house was flooding and a call for help had been made to the Coast Guard. According to Thomas, the stranded civilians had called their relatives in Illinois for help. The relatives then called the Coast Guard.

The Pave Hawk, Jolly 92, landed in a small grassy area and pararescuemen, also known as PJs, went to the house to rescue the four stranded civilians. "The area where we landed was under water 10 minutes later," Thomas said.

A second JTF 129 helicopter, Jolly 91, was hovering nearby during the rescue, and the sound of the helicopter prompted additional unevacuated civilians to leave their homes, said Capt. Brian Finnerty, 129th Rescue Wing pilot and flight lead for Jolly 91.

Two PJs rappelled from Jolly 91 and attempted to convince civilians that they needed to evacuate. Some civilians refused to leave and opted to stay in their homes, Finnerty said. The PJs hoisted two people and two dogs into the Pave Hawk, and the crew eventually dropped them off at Ellington Field in Houston.

While Jolly 91 picked up the two civilians, Jolly 92 was hovering nearby with the family of four. The crew picked up two more people and pets. The crews spotted one man with a spotlight - his house was surrounded by water. The PJs hoisted the man up in to the helicopter.

Jolly 92 headed to Ellington Field with the six rescued civilians and pets. The helicopters then returned to Kelly Field. "Winds at that point were at 60 knots and visibility was low - it was time for us to go," Thomas said.

Overall, four Air National Guard Pave Hawks and JTF 129 personnel saved 15 adults, one child, and four dogs.

Joint Task Force 129 is a self-contained search and rescue unit comprised of more than 100 people, including highly trained pararescuemen, four HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, and two MC-130P Combat Shadow tankers. Air National Guardsmen from the 176th Wing, Kulis Air National Guard Base, Ala., are also part of the rescue task force.

As an Air National Guard unit, many of the 129th's past missions involved supporting state emergencies that included earthquakes, chemical spills, fires and floods. Equipped with MC-130P Combat Shadow tankers and HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, the 129th has performed a wide variety of civilian search and rescue missions, including distressed persons aboard ships, lost or injured hikers, and medical evacuations.

(Capt. Alyson Teeter is assigned to the Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJoint Task Force 129 crew, Jolly 92, flies over a building in the storm surge that overtook the Bolivar Peninsula bridge near Galveston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2008. The California Air National Guard crew of Jolly 92 rescued six civilians and pets stranded in Galveston. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Wally Bacio   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJoint Task Force 129 crew, Jolly 92, flies over a yacht warehouse fire in Galveston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2008. The California Air National Guard crew of Jolly 92 rescued six civilians and pets stranded in Galveston. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Wally Bacio   
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Click photo for screen-resolution image Joint Task Force 129 crew, Jolly 92, lands in a tight space between houses to rescue an adult male in Galveston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2008. The California Air National Guard crew of Jolly 92 rescued six civilians and pets stranded in Galveston. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Wally Bacio   
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